Monday, December 16, 2013

On Nudity, Modesty, Etc.

Over the last few months I have deliberately avoided mentioning stories in popular culture. It's been too depressing, really, to combat the ignorance of the Truth and even His (in one sense, it is impersonal, in another Truth is as Jesus Christ declared, a person) outright rejection and denigration in today's world. That's nothing new, granted, but it's been particularly difficult lately. It also tends to become polemical, but I make one exception for now.

Anyways. This fits in nicely to my discussions on love and the vocation of marriage in a roundabout way. You can read about Miley Cyrus's latest act on the Huffington Post. I will respond to some of her rather odd points, but mostly I shall stick to reflecting on human sexuality as presented by the Church and responded to by the faithful.

On the issues of female sexuality (male and female sexuality placed into categories bothers me, for in its most proper expression, men and women are one flesh as they are married) made in the article by the call for the "decriminalization of the female body":

It is true that throughout history, from at least the time of the Mycenaeans of the Iliad, where Achilleus gets pouty over losing his mistress, a prize of war, and Cassandra is raped (actually not in the Iliad but that's not the point!) to today, where rape and female genital mutilation mark the horrible and devastating reality of living in war-torn regions such as the Congo. That means that men will have something to answer for on the day of Judgment.

It is true that sometimes it has seemed the case that men blamed women as a class for the Fall of Man. This isn't true, regardless of what was actually said by theologians or thinkers. Eve is to blame, and Adam is too for he failed to stop her! Hence, Christ came as the New Adam (Adam means man!) to reverse the sin of the First Man, where His Blessed Mother came, with her Fiat, to undo the "no" given by Eve.

Man is fallen for our first parents were persuaded, wrongly of course, that there would be no effects for learning about Evil through eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in defiance of God's command to eat anything but that. Only through the Passion and Resurrection, by which the fount of mercy was opened forth for the whole world, can we be saved from the bonds of sin and slavery.

This does not wash away the effects of original sin, namely the tendency to lean towards the base pleasures of the world, AKA concupiscence. We must cooperate with grace in an immeasurable way in order to do good, especially to do good that is profitable for our souls. Otherwise it's some form of Pelagianism, if one is claiming to be a Christian.

As to the body, no one "criminalized" the female body. I find that our attitudes tend towards glorifying the body in an idolatrous or lustful way, claiming to be Christian while pretending sexual immorality doesn't exist and letting the behaviors of the first one go on without comment since there is nothing wrong with one's own decisions (a rather libertarian approach), or leaning towards the view that all things of the flesh are bad. In this country at times the (one could call it) Irish Catholic view, which focuses squarely on the procreative aspects of sexual union to the virtual exclusion of the unitive aspects, tended to dominate in reaction to the first. The second is a phenomenon of the last twenty or so years that I find in the Republican Party...I digress.

People in the Church today seem to think that in order to correct a heavy emphasis, we should swing the other way, and in application this always neglects the best of what had previously been emphasized. Blessed John Paul II's Theology of the Body is great in affirming the notion that we should not denigrate human sexuality but rather recognize it for what it really is. That includes promoting modesty in speech and dress, especially in public settings in today's mass media, as well as the procreative aspects and the unitive aspects of sexuality together.

(I might have to duck and cover here.) There are certain Catholics who feel that we shouldn't go after people who dress immodestly in our personal views, since modesty is relative and defined by cultural standards, which I concede is true, at least for a time. As it is the United States doesn't have a unified culture, either geographically or ethnically, so a person originally from the South or Southwest might not have the same standards as a New Englander. An African or South Pacific Islander will not have the same cultural standards as someone of predominantly European ancestry. I just realized immigration throws a further monkey wrench into it: the Brazilians in my mother's hometown in Massachusetts probably go for the look that keeps them warm rather than the one that is considered modest according to the standards of Brazil (being rather warm in comparison!).The point is, neither geography nor ethnicity lead to a more unified standard of modesty in this country.

But wait a minute. The Church and Western civilization are integrated thoroughly. We should spread the best of Western civilization as we spread the Gospel, and for the most part that includes our standards of modesty. I think that modesty is relative only until the Gospel is spread to that time and place. I'm not sure I would be comfortable assisting at Mass in a setting that reflected the modesty standards of Tahiti (to reference John Paul II's visit with the controversial photographs with Tahitians), and while I can't and won't say they are any less Catholics in good standing than I am (a resounding problem in conversations on modesty, which shouldn't be arguments!), I find that it was a less than prudent decision.

We also need to firmly recognize that men don't live in a sexual vacuum, and at some point in human history men became creatures fascinated by visual elements.

Let's use leggings as pants as an example. I don't think one wear them to Sunday Mass, since we should try to wear our best. Try to cover up outside of Mass too. I get they are comfy and often girls run out of pants just like guys. Otherwise I try not to comment since I get that most people are not trying to seduce me or anyone else. On the other hand, not doing anything to wear a modest tee shirt/top/whatever that keeps everything covered while wearing leggings as pants is no bueno! (Also, men shouldn't dress like slobs and wear tank tops or other immodest clothes during Mass or outside of the church either. But as you shall see, I find men wearing immodest clothes to be patently absurd.).

Back to men in a vacuum: I submit that at some level women firmly cooperate with the exploitation of human sexuality by men, so the probably feminist rant that these "Free the Nipple" (OK, I find that slogan highly amusing, because I find "nipple" sounds funny. Please forgive me if that sounds immature.) promoters gave in their Facebook description (see the article) is just plain bonkers. Some people feel pressured into economic activities (not to reduce things of grave matter, e.g. pornography and strip clubs to pure economic ventures, but that's how they see it) because of need. But there are people who participate in say, pornography, because they can, because they enjoy it, and thus because they want to. There's probably a dose of feminism in there somewhere. Also, it's ridiculous that male models with their shirts off are even a thing. I think it's pretty ridiculous looking and that it's obviously at least a tad immodest when muscular guys wear a tank top, let alone go shirtless. Jason Evert and his wife Crystallina seem to hold the same opinion throughout their books. That means that there is at least tacit acceptance and approval on the part of women. Take major American retailers. They thrive even as we step back and complain that men are dressed provocatively in their stores, in their ads, etc. "Sex strikes" for economic purposes and women's rights in the developing world make the news. So why can't women and men together, even if it's a small group of faithful Catholics (Matthew 18:20), work to resist advertising which takes away from the dignity of the human person and  fight pornography? I don't wish to reduce our efforts to simply issues-based Catholicism but rather we should do our utmost to present this campaign in the light of the fullness of the Truth.

Each of us will have to answer for placing, enticing, encouraging, whatever the verb of choice is, ourselves and our brethren in a position where they feel they have to or feel they should or want to participate in modeling, stripping, pornography (as a viewer or as a participant), or be subjected to raunchy ads, displays of sex in the media (films and plays) and otherwise choosing not to treat everyone as a child of God created in His image and likeness, to know, love and serve Him in this life, so that he or she might be with Him in the next.

I am sure this is not a complete coverage, and while I can't say I'll change my mind on everything, I certainly would like a challenge if only for me to change my position after I think about it more.

Our Lady, conceived without sin, pray for us!


  1. "To combat the ignorance of the Truth" is such a good phrase and, indeed, it is wearisome fighting that ignorance. Thank you Matthew.

    1. You're very welcome Richard. It is wearisome, but may Our Lord make our yoke sweet and light, so that we may continue to fight the good fight, to walk the good way so that we might be with Him in Heaven.